The Obama administration is in talks with top Egyptian officials about the possible immediate resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.
U.S. officials said they are also discussing the formation of an interim government that could prepare the country for free and fair elections later this year.
Creation of a military-backed caretaker government in Egypt is one of several ideas being discussed as anti-Mubarak protests escalate in the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities, the officials said late last night.
Those protests are expected to grow in size and intensity today. the administration fears they may erupt into more widespread violence unless the government takes tangible steps to address the protesters’ main demand that Mubarak leave office.
The officials claimed the United States isn’t trying to force Mubarak to resign.
However they noted that the administration had made a judgment that Mubarak has to go soon if there is to be a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
The talks about Mubarak’s immediate departure were first reported by The New York Times.
White House and State Department spokesmen would not discuss details of the discussions U.S. officials are having with the Egyptians.
Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman on Thursday, a day after a similar conversation between Suleiman and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Officials said neither Biden nor Clinton made a specific call for Mubarak to resign immediately but pressed for measures that would ease tensions on the streets and set the stage for democratic elections.
‘The president has said that now is the time to begin a peaceful, orderly and meaningful transition, with credible, inclusive negotiations,’ said White House national security spokesman Tommy Vietor last night.
‘We have discussed with the Egyptians a variety of different ways to move that process forward, but all of those decisions must be made by the Egyptian people.’
An administration official said there is no single plan being discussed with the Egyptians.
Rather, the administration is pursuing different ideas with Egyptian figures on how to proceed quickly with a process that includes a broad range of voices and leads to free and fair elections – in essence, different ways to accomplish those goals.
Among those options is a proposal for Mubarak to resign immediately – which the embattled president has refused to do – and for Mubarak to cede power to a transitional government run by Suleiman.
But the official rejected the notion that the White House was trying to impose that idea and said it was not at all clear it would happen. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The discussions come amid escalating violence between pro- and anti-Mubarak forces.
Yesterday the U.S. criticised Egypt over attacks on foreign journalists.
Clinton demanded an end to attacks on reporters in Egypt which have left one dead and dozens more arrested or injured.
She condemned the violence by supporters of Mubarak and said his government should begin immediate talks on a political transition.
She added: ”Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are pillars of an open and inclusive society. The Egyptian government must demonstrate its willingness to ensure journalists’ ability to report on these events to the people of Egypt and to the world.
‘I urge the government and a broad and credible representation of Egypt’s opposition, civil society and political factions to begin immediately serious negotiations on a peaceful and orderly transition.’
Clinton described the attacks as ‘unacceptable in any circumstances’ in the wake of the death of a foreign journalist who is believed to have been killed while covering the anti-government riots in Cairo today.
The reporter, who is understood to be a Greek national, was one of dozens of journalists who came under attack from supporters of President Hosni Mubarak during another day of heavy violence in the Egyptian capital.
Journalists were beaten with sticks and fists by pro-government mobs on the streets of Cairo and dozens were reportedly detained by security forces in what the U.S. called a concerted attempt to intimidate the press.
An angry mob threatened to behead ABC producer Brian Hartman, cameraman Akram Abi-hanna and two of their colleagues after their two-car convoy was ambushed at a checkpoint.
Mr Hartman said: ‘A man in police uniform came up to me and said “so help me God… I am going to cut off your head”.
‘I couldn’t see anything outside the windows except angry faces and the gestures. I thought we were absolutely doomed.’
They were only saved when Mr Abi-hanna, who is Lebanese and a veteran ABC cameraman, appealed to ‘the renowned generosity of the Egyptian people’.
Mr Hartman said Mr Abi-hanna ‘lunged forward and gave a great big bear hug’ to a man who appeared to be an elder of the neighbourhood.
‘He gave him a kiss on each cheek and told the man referring to me, “He is my guest. He is your guest in this country. Egyptian people are better than this.”‘
Then, just minutes after hearing Hartman had been released, ABC News anchor Christiane Amanpour and her team were surrounded and interrogated by a threatening crowd.
They were eventually allowed to proceed, but it was the second time in two days her team had been targeted by groups of men angry with foreign coverage of the demonstrations.
And yesterday, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper said he, a producer and camera operator were set upon by people who began punching them and trying to break their camera in central Cairo.
Another CNN reporter, Hala Gorani, said she was shoved against a fence when demonstrators rode in on horses and camels, and feared she was going to get trampled.
Clinton said the attacks violated international norms on freedom of the press. Without directly blaming Mubarak’s regime, she said: ‘It is especially in times of crisis that governments must demonstrate their adherence to these universal values.’
Meanwhile, photographers reported a string of attacks by supporters of Mubarak near Tahrir Square, the scene of vicious battles between them and pro-democracy protesters demanding he step down after nearly 30 years in power.
The Egyptian government has accused media outlets of being sympathetic to protesters who want Mubarak to quit now.
The Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini said its correspondent in Cairo was hospitalised with a stab wound to the leg after being attacked by pro-Mubarak demonstrators in central Tahrir Square, although he is understood to have been released. A Greek newspaper photographer was also beaten.
‘There is a concerted campaign to intimidate international journalists in Cairo and interfere with their reporting. We condemn such actions,’ U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
Washington Post Foreign Editor Douglas Jehl said on the paper’s website that multiple witnesses had reported that Cairo bureau chief Leila Fadel and photographer Linda Davidson were among two dozen journalists arrested by the Egyptian Interior Ministry.
‘We understand that they are safe but in custody and we have made urgent protests to Egyptian authorities in Cairo and Washington,’ he said.
The New York Times said two reporters working for the paper were released earlier today after being detained overnight in Cairo.
The Qatar-based pan-Arab broadcaster Al Jazeera said in an email that three of its journalists were detained by security forces and another was reported missing.
Egyptian authorities have complained the network’s round-the-clock coverage was slanted toward protesters and could encourage more unrest.
Al Jazeera also said its journalists’ equipment had been stolen and destroyed during more than a week of unrest and it had faced what it called unprecedented levels of interference in its broadcast signal across the Arab world.
The Arabic-language satellite channel Al Arabiya pleaded on an urgent news scroll for the army to protect its offices and journalists.
The Toronto Globe and Mail said on its website that one of its reporters, Sonia Verma, said the military had ‘commandeered us and our car’ in Cairo.
‘It is believed that Globe reporter Patrick Martin was travelling with Ms Verma, along with a driver,’ the site said.
The injured Greek journalist, Petros Papaconstantinou, said on Kathimerini’s website that: ‘I was spotted by Mubarak supporters. They … beat me with batons on the head and stabbed me lightly in the leg. Some soldiers intervened, but Mubarak’s supporters took everything I had on me in front of the soldiers.’
A Greek freelance photographer was punched in the face by a group of men who stopped him on the street near Tahrir Square and smashed some of his equipment.
The leaders of France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain said in a joint statement that the ‘attacks against journalists are completely unacceptable’.
Associated Press spokesman Paul Colford said that ‘AP journalists in Egypt have faced the same harassment and intimidation as other news organisations’.
One Associated Press location was disrupted by men wielding sticks, and satellite equipment was taken.
‘The situation was quickly defused,’ Colford said.
‘No one was injured.’
Turkey’s state broadcaster TRT, said its Egypt correspondent, Metin Turan, was beaten by a group of around 15 pro-Mubarak demonstrators with batons and lost a tooth in the attack. His camera, money and cell phone were stolen.
Three other Turkish journalists were also stopped and roughed up near Tahrir square, TRT said.
Polish state television TVP said that two of its crews were detained in Cairo. One was released after one of its camera’s was smashed, it said.
Egypt’s Government spokesman Magdy Rady had earlier said that the assertion of state involvement in street clashes and attacks on reporters was a ‘fiction’, and that the government welcomed objective coverage.
‘It would help our purpose to have it as transparent as possible. We need your help,’ Rady said.
He added that some media were not impartial and were ‘taking sides against Egypt’.
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